The Impressionists and the Man Who Made Them (2015)

The Impressionists

The Impressionists and the Man Who Made Them is the latest offering from Exhibitions on Screen, giving art lovers the chance to learn about the stories behind some of the world’s greatest exhibitions.

Making An Impression

by Laura Bennett

The Impressionists

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The most recent instalment from Exhibitions on Screen focuses on a travelling exhibition of works by the Impressionists showing this year at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, London’s National Gallery and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rather than profiling the artists themselves, The Impressionists and the Man Who Made Them, written and directed by Phil Grabsky, focuses on the proto-art dealer who staked his reputation on an art that was once seen as revolutionary and dangerous.

Paul Durand-Ruel played a pivotal role at a time when the nouvelle peinture produced by the artists that came to be known as the Impressionists was controversial to say the least. He became their most ardent supporter, as acknowledged by Monet: ‘Without him, we wouldn’t have survived’. An art lover with visionary taste, he was also an avant-garde businessman, employing commercial strategies on which much of the modern art market is now based and opening branches of his gallery in London and New York.

Combining an innate determination and commercial sense with a financial flair and genuine passion for the artistic developments made by the Impressionists, the tireless Durand-Ruel criss-crossed the Atlantic and a considerable chunk of America. He quickly spotted the opportunity to promote the new painting to a new country, capitalising on the continent’s boom in wealth and open-minded potential collectors who were less influenced by the rigours of traditionally academic art and prided themselves on being avant-garde.

The documentary links excerpts from Durand-Ruel’s memoirs and his correspondence with artists such as Monet, Renoir and Sisley to insights provided by curators from the three museums and behind the scenes glimpses of what it takes to stage an exhibition of this magnitude. Despite this learned commentary, it is the paintings themselves that take centre stage with lingering close-up views of the blurry style that once saw the Impressionists lampooned as lunatics.

For those unable to travel to the museums themselves, Exhibitions on Screen, now in its second year, provides a fascinating glimpse of key figures and movements in the history of art, none more so than the inspiringly prophetic Paul Durand-Ruel.

Exhibitions on Screen – The Impressionists and the Man Who Made Them is in cinemas from 26 May

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